SPOKANE, Wash. --- This year there has been up to a 40 percent drop in suspensions at Spokane public schools.
Suspensions are down 20 percent at the elementary level and 40 percent for higher grades.
Spokane public school leaders credit the drop in suspensions to a new method of discipline called restorative practices. That method focuses on understanding and fixing the conflict, rather than just punishment.
If you ask High School junior Elker Soe what his favorite class is he will tell you woodshop, P.E. or cooking.
“It’s just more like moving and working with your hands,” Soe said.
But if you ask him what he struggles with he will tell you it is English class.
“I came from a different country and this isn’t my first language,” Soe said.
Soe spent his childhood years in Thailand and Burma. Soe fled war as a refugee when he was just eight years old.
The United States has offered Soe’s family safety and opportunity, but he still struggled to live up to his potential.
“Last year I was kind of one of those kids who didn't really care about school … skipping class, thought it was cool. Arguing with teachers, getting in fights,” Soe said.
Soe would often skip class, which is why for him, and students like him, getting suspended from school was not a deterrent. That is the genesis of restorative practices, a new approach to discipline this year.
“Really it's an approach to dealing with negative behaviors… It's finding a way to identify the harm and helping students repair the harm,” Ferris High School’s Assistant Principal John O’Dell said.
Restorative practices are crafted to each situation, but in general they require kids to hear each other, recognize their wrong doings and agree to a new path forward with the help of teachers and administration.
Ferris High School said it has seen a huge difference. Ferris High School said last year they had 207 suspensions. This year, Ferris High School has only had 50.
O’Dell had something to say for anyone who hears restorative practices and believes that the school is going too easy on students.
“I don't think that's true. It's not saying we're going to ignore behaviors, it's not saying we'll never suspend someone. It's not saying we'll just look the other way. What it's saying is: we're going to take the time to hear kids. We're going to take time to have them repair the harm, to work through things and really hold them accountable--to actually look it in the face, what they did,” O’Dell said.
Soe said that accountability has help him look at his future in a new way. Soe is aiming for college and dreams of one day owning his own business. Soe’s grades have significantly improved with those goals in his sights.
“Like in my neighborhood, I see people homeless, I've seen a lot you know because people drop out, didn't finish it. I don't want to be one of those people. I want to live a successful life… make myself big, make my family proud,” Soe said.
Spokane Public Schools is not alone in claiming positive benefits from restorative practices. In fact, the Department of Education has an entire section on its website dedicated to the methods across the country. You can read more about the Department of Education's section here.
You can read more about restorative practices in Spokane Public Schools here.